The Best Places to See Snow Near San Francisco

Whether you prefer to hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding or to curl up by a fireplace for apres-ski cocktails, there are plenty of convenient snowy winter destinations near SF.

Northern California has it all—beaches, wine country, and, during the winter, plenty of quaint mountain towns with fresh snow. Just a short drive from San Francisco, these charming destinations create tons of opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, and more. And if you just want to curl up next to a fire with a good book and a toasty cocktail, well, they’ve got you covered there, too. Read on for some of the most magical, snow-covered getaways within driving distance of SF.

Palisades Tahoe
Palisades Tahoe

North Lake Tahoe

Okay, this may be a bit obvious since Lake Tahoe is pretty much every San Franciscan’s number-one ski and snowboarding destination, thanks to its stunning beauty and the fact that it averages around 18 feet of snow each winter. It’s only 200 miles away (which, to be fair, can take anywhere from 3.5 to 10 hours in the car depending on weather conditions and what time you leave) and has some of the best snow you’ll find spread across 15 ski resorts and nearly 550 miles of slopes. It’s also full of sledding hills, cross-country skiing, ice skating rinks, and basically everything you need for a magical winter experience, in case you’re not much of a skier or snowboarder.

North Lake, which is made up of a bunch of small towns including Truckee, Tahoe City, Carnelian Bay, and Incline Village, is super family-friendly and has much more of a mountain town vibe going on. There are bars and restaurants, but for the most part, you’ll be cozy in your cabin in front of the fire by 9 pm, which is ideal for those who want to wake up early and hit the hill. There are lots of resorts accessible to those staying in North Lake, including Sugar Bowl, Mt. Rose, Diamond Peak, Boreal, and Homewood, but the two biggest are Palisades (formerly Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows) and Northstar.

Palisades Tahoe
Olympic Valley
If you’re staying anywhere from Truckee to the State Line, Palisades Tahoe is the place to go that will satisfy every level of skier or snowboarder in your group. The resort is made up of two mountains — Alpine Meadows and Palisades — which this year, for the first time ever, are connected by a base-to-base gondola. That means over 6,000 skiable acres accessed by 34 lifts, plus, for the non-skiers, a village at Palisades that’s full of bars, restaurants, and shopping.
How to book: The season is in full effect and will likely run through at least April. Buy your lift tickets in advance to get the best price. Rates for the early season are $119 to $195 for adults. Palisades is also part of the Ikon Pass, which starts at $519.

Northstar California Resort
Truckee
Northstar is a family-friendly resort, perfect for beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders, but also with more steep terrain and hidden powder stashes than most people give it credit for (so don’t write it off if you’re a serious skier—there’s plenty of fun to be had if you hit the right spots). There’s also a village with great restaurants and an ice skating rink for those who don’t want to ski/ride.
How to book: Northstar is open for skiing and snowboarding fun. Book lift tickets seven days in advance to get the best prices. Rates for early-season tickets are around $151 to $199. Northstar is part of the Epic Pass, but season passes are sold out.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood Mountain Resort

South Lake Tahoe

Whereas most of North Lake Tahoe is exactly what you think of when you imagine an idyllic winter escape—small towns separated by winding roads and dotted with cozy cabins—South Lake is what happens when a ski town is hit with a side of Vegas. Think: big-chain hotels, casinos, four-lane roads, and lots of nightlife. This is the side of the lake you want to visit if people in your group don’t ski and are going to need other entertainment or if you’re not worried about getting “first chair” and instead prefer to party well into the night. All of that being said, it still has lots and lots of snow and two quality ski resorts.

Heavenly Mountain Resort
South Lake Tahoe
Want to ski in two different states on the same day? Heavenly, which straddles the California-Nevada border, has you covered. It boasts 4,800 skiable acres (the second-most in Tahoe now that Palisades and Alpine Meadows are connected), 28 chairlifts, 10,067 feet of elevation (the highest in Tahoe), and terrain for every kind of skier. The views of Lake Tahoe are also unparalleled, which even those who aren’t skiing or riding can experience via the gondola.
How to book: Lift tickets for adults are $189 to $225, but you can save by buying them in advance and/or for multiple days. Heavenly is part of the Epic Pass, but season passes are sold out.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood
Whereas you can walk to Heavenly from most of the big hotels along the main strip in South Lake, Kirkwood is off the beaten path—about 45 minutes in the car. Still, if you’re a serious skier or rider, it’s worth the drive and price of admission because this resort is known for having one of the highest average snowfalls and for its steep terrain. The resort also has cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking, including dog-friendly trails.
How to book: Lift tickets for adults range from $129 to $165, but you can save money if you buy them in advance and/or for multiple days. Kirkwood is part of the Epic Pass, but season passes are sold out.

Yosemite
Yosemite | Rudy Wilms/Flickr

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite
Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on earth, whatever time of year you visit, but it is most magical in the winter when snow blankets the landscape, the crowds disappear, there’s a quiet stillness not found during any other season, and you can really appreciate the mesmerizing sights.

You can still do many of Yosemite’s famous hikes during the winter months, but there are also some winter-specific activities to enjoy, including ice skating in Curry Village, complete with fire pits and views of Half Dome, (open daily until March 5, 2023, and costs $16 for adults); snow tubing at Badger Pass ($25 per person; dates and times are dependent on snow); snowshoeing, including guiding hikes ($26.50 to rent snowshoes for the day); and cross-country skiing. For the latter, you’ll find 25 miles of groomed track at Badger Pass Ski Area, but if you want a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, the move is to do the 21-mile round-trip trek to Glacier Point, a gorgeous overlook that, during the winter, you can only get to via skis or snowshoes, which means it will be almost empty of other humans. Cross-ski rentals are $28.50 for the day.

If you want to do some traditional skiing or snowboarding, Badger Pass Ski Area is open from mid-December to mid-March (conditions permitting) and has 10 ski runs, five chairlifts, and is a very mellow and beginner-friendly experience. But even if you normally crush black diamonds, you’ll be able to say you skied at one of only three ski hills with chairlifts in a U.S. National Park.
How to book: Lift tickets are $54 for a half-day and $62 for all-day.

Bear Valley Resort
Bear Valley Resort

Arnold

Calaveras County
This mellow mountain town in Gold Country (about halfway between Yosemite and Tahoe) is best known for being home to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which has two groves of giant sequoia trees. The trails do not get cleared in the winter, which may put some people off, but is really just the perfect excuse to strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis—you can rent both at Sierra Nevada Adventure Co. The North Grove is the easiest to access, but if you want to see the park’s two biggest trees, you’ll need to commit to the five-mile hike to the South Grove. If you prefer to ski or snowboard, then you’ll want to get a lift ticket for Bear Valley.

Bear Valley Resort
Bear Valley
Just up the hill from Arnold, Bear Valley is a family-friendly resort inside Stanislaus National Forest. It’s a much more mellow resort than the ones you’ll find in Tahoe (as well as more affordable in terms of lodging and food), but still a fun place for anyone to ski. There are nearly 1,300 acres of skiable terrain, eight chair lifts, and 67 trails (which are pretty evenly divided between all levels).
How to book: Adult lift tickets are $132 to $153, and season passes are $749.

Mt. Shasta Ski Park
Mt. Shasta Ski Park

Mount Shasta

Siskiyou County
Mount Shasta is about 275 miles from San Francisco (about halfway between SF and Portland) but tends to get fairly ignored by people in the Bay despite being a much-easier drive than the one to Tahoe. If you’ve never been to the imposing 14,179-foot-tall mountain (and the second tallest volcanic peak in the Cascade Range) and you’re looking for something a little off-the-beaten path, it’s a great option for winter fun. There are plenty of cross-country and snowshoe opportunities. You’ll find groomed cross-country trails at the Mt. Shasta Nordic Center, but you’re allowed to go wherever you want inside the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. You can even go ice fishing at Castle Lake.

Mt. Shasta Ski Park
McCloud
For a more traditional skiing or snowboarding experience, hit up Mt. Shasta Ski Park, which has 38 trails, 635 acres of skiable terrain, 2,036 vertical feet, and four chairlifts (plus two carpets), with a new lift being unveiled this year that will open up an additional 200 acres. There’s also tubing ($25 for adults) and a couple of bars and restaurants for those who want to escape the cold. Opening day has yet to be announced, but “early December” is the goal.
How to book: Lift tickets cost between $74 and $99 depending on the day, and season passes are $699.

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Shasta County
If you hike Mount Lassen in July, there’s a good chance you’ll find some snow at the top but for a true snow-filled experience, visit this park full of clear mountain lakes, hydrothermal areas, and over 30 volcanic domes during the winter when it’s usually covered with a blanket of snow. The snow means that many of the roads are closed to vehicles, so be prepared to strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis in order to explore. There are also a couple of sledding areas. You can see a full list of winter activities online.
How to book: The Winter one- to seven-day entrance pass is $10 and can be purchased online.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia National Park

Tulare County
Much like Yosemite, a visit to Sequoia National Park, known for its giant sequoia trees, including General Sherman, the largest tree on earth by volume, is a completely different—and in many ways much more magical—place during the winter. Take a free, guided snowshoe walk, go cross-country skiing, or go sledding or tubing in designated snow play areas. You can camp overnight or stay in one of the park’s lodges, where you’ll have access to restaurants, general stores, retail, and more.
How to book: Vehicle passes cost $35 and are valid for one to seven days.

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Daisy Barringer grew up in San Francisco, and her 8th grade class trip to Yosemite in the middle of winter remains one of her favorite childhood memories (though skiing in Tahoe is also right up there). Follow her on Instagram @daisysf.